It was three or four nights out in a remote farmlandish field in the ruralist Southwestern Alberta. I don’t know what the area was like before production got there, but I’m guessing most of the trenches and giant mounds of upturned earth and muddy channels and tangled barbed wire and charred trees came with us. My squad, the tam o’ shantered Scot infantry, had one thing in common that none of the other troops could appreciate: we’d all taken director Ed Zwick’s suggestion to heart and gone authentic kiltwise, if you know what I mean. I mean we were feeling a wee bawherr cauld in our daubers and ballbags, a’richt?
Aricht, na mair o’ that. The nights were long and warlike, in that it was mostly waiting punctuated by bursts of extreme stimulation. Every so often a loudspeaker called on us to stop drinking the hot chicken broth sustaining us and extinguish our (hopefully for authenticity’s sake handrolled from loose tobacco) cigarettes and line up at ladders and other exits from the trench…our trench… what had become our home, really. You don’t really know til you’ve been there.
All goes quiet as an airhorn calls for silence…we tighten grip on our fairly realistic, got some heft to it bolt action rifles. Those of us who can, scratch our open dangling nuts in anticipation. The night is quiet, dark…someone farts—suddenly a whistle. We charge!
A roaring line of the bravest extras I’ve ever seen surges forward as flares explode fire overhead and mass strobe lights flash and into the field of mayhem we run headlong, trying to remember which piles the PA pointed out with orange flags to denote a mortar shell exploding, but someone has come and removed the flags and all the piles look the same… run, keep running…a blast of sparks to the left, squint to see what I hope is a stuntman head down seven feet in the air…
…a moment of clarity: Remember what the assistant director said. Ahead somewhere is a mound of mutilated earth only acting like it’s in a war—there, away from the camera, where it flashes a yellow flag for only we to see. The AD’s words ring: “You, you, you, you, you and you die around this flag.”
This flag, indicator of my destiny, illuminates just then in a flash of simulated violence. It gets closer as I run toward it, and the inevitability brings calm questions: How will I go? Shot in the leg? Torso would be quicker, but then why not a head shot? Does my Scottish private have a reason to go home? Wha loves me? Do ah hae anythin’ tae live fur? Whit’s mah lee worth , dammit!
With every step toward the flag my time for these questions was running out.